8 Lessons I Learned Starting A Business In College

Fernando Rojo, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Founder of PATOS

By Fernando Rojo C’18, Founder of PATOS

“Working in a third-world country will be a logistical nightmare.”

“No one will want such bright patterns on shoes.”

“Why aren’t your sales higher already?”

These are a few of the sorts of things people said to me as I started PATOS, a line of modern sneakers made with traditional Peruvian textiles that I’ve spent the last two years bringing to market. The idea for the business came to me during my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. I was visiting extended family in Argentina and met an artisan named Rafael at a flea market there. He made these incredible shoes with vibrant textiles. I heard his story and perspective as a talented artisan in a struggling economy, and I was hooked; a few days later, I got on a plane back to the U.S. with 100 pairs of Rafael’s textile-covered shoes and the idea for PATOS: I’d partner with him and other talented artisans across Latin America, building a global brand for their handcrafted, one-of-a-kind sneakers. Read more 8 Lessons I Learned Starting A Business In College

Breaking Down the Brazilian Zeitgeist (Plus Memoirs of An MBA Grad)

By Tom Baldwin, Wharton MBA 2013

This post originally appeared on the blog entitled Tropical Considerations: Insights on the Brazilian VC/ Startup Ecosystem.

Annnndddd I’m back. Sorry for the long delay everyone – the last few weeks of school were extremely busy (and extremely fun). I’m now a freshly minted Wharton MBA graduate, ready to take on the world! My 24 months at Wharton / Lauder were truly outstanding, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world (or the six figure debt load I took on in order to finance it). I’m now an even stronger believer in the value of a top-tier MBA. While it’s not for everyone, it made a lot of sense for me, and I can say with complete candor that the experience was truly transformative.

Graduation
That’s me on the left. With my roommates Jordan (middle) and Brett (right).

I gained a lot from Wharton. A new group of amazing friends who would go to hell and back to help me out and see me succeed? Check. Unforgettable international adventures alongside super sharp, super fun-loving people? Check. A robust network of powerful professional relationships that I can leverage to turbo-charge my career and come closer to realizing my long-term aspirations? Check. New insights and new knowledge that have changed the way I interface and interact with the world around me? Check. A job whose central focus is exactly what I’m passionate about, that I’ll actually be excited about waking up for, that puts me in touch with Latin American entrepreneurs and creators every day? Check, check, check. You get the point… For me, Wharton was a wild, crazy, and life-changing ride, and I feel so privileged to have had the experience.

Okay, let’s get down to business. The goal of today’s post is to provide a quick update on my personal story / future plans, and weigh in on a recent NYT article on current trends in the Brazilian startup ecosystem. Tomorrow I’m publishing a post on the importance of CLV, and in a few days I’ll post an extensive comparative analysis which examines the differences between the São Paulo and Mexico City ecosystems. Stay tuned!

My new gig, and how I got it

I generally seek to avoid writing about myself on this blog (apart from a few personal anecdotes / stories here and there). But today I’m going to break from tradition and share a bit about my personal journey over the past two years. Hopefully some of you out there find it interesting, relevant, or useful.

I didn’t know much when I arrived at Wharton two years ago. What I did know, however, was the following: (1) I didn’t want to do anything “corporate” (2) I wanted to do something deeply entrepreneurial, whether launching a startup, working at a startup, or investing in startups; and (3) I wanted to do something that channeled my passion for Brazil.

During my time at Wharton, I maintained a laser-like focus on activities that I felt would help create opportunities consistent with the goals outlined above. I took my Lauder Portuguese classes very seriously, using every opportunity to ramp my Portuguese language abilities. I read startup / VC blogs voraciously. I began tweeting about Latin American startups and the Latin American tech scene. I cold called startup founders, interviewed them, and published the interviews in the Wharton Journal. I became an evangelist for my entrepreneurially inclined friends and colleagues, promoting their projects via facebook, twitter, foursquare, and linkedin. I spoke and wrote and tweeted so much about startups that it actually began to annoy people! I soon became known across campus as the “Brazil startup guy.” Sweet. This is what I was going for.

There’s more. During Wharton’s “DIP Week” (dedicated interview period), when the bulk of my Wharton peers were consumed by interviews with bulge bracket banks and consulting firms, I skipped town, traveling to Brazil to begin building local relationships throughout the ecosystem. I networked aggressively with the Brazilian startup community, leveraging Brazil-based Wharton / Lauder contacts like Davis Smith, Jake Rosenbloom, and Nick Reise in order to establish a local beachhead and grow my Brazilian rolodex. These connections helped me land an awesome summer internship at a São Paulo-based, venture-backed fashion eCommerce startup called olook (coincidentally cofounded by another Whartonite, Peter Ostroske). At olook, I ran a cohort analysis and built out a comprehensive customer lifetime value model, leading the company to embark on an important strategic pivot.

After my summer in SP, instead of returning to Philadelphia, I flew to San Francisco, where I participated in the pilot program for the new Wharton Semester in San Francisco program (Wharton is the only MBA program that offers the opportunity to spend a semester “abroad” in San Francisco). While in San Francisco, I took courses like Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation, Technology Strategy, The Development of Web-based Products & Services, and Digital Commerce. I also soaked up the insights and advice of those who visited us as part of the Wharton in San Francisco speaker series, including Josh Kopelman of First Round, Andrew Chung of Khosla, Amy Errett of Maveron, Kevin Hartz of Eventbrite, Michael Baum of Splunk, and Davis Smith of Baby.com.br, among others. Finally, following the advice of my friends Toby and Pablo, I used my 5-week winter break to travel back down to São Paulo to launch a blog focused on the Brazilian tech scene. Every day while in SP, I met with different entrepreneurs and investors, seeking to develop unique and actionable insights that I could share on my blog. And the result was tropicalconsiderations.com, which you’re reading right now.

Wharton SF
Wharton’s brand new campus in San Francisco. I encourage all entrepreneurially-minded Whartonites to participate in SSF!

Long story short, I used my time at Wharton to focus on the stuff I love (startups, Brazil, the Portuguese language, entrepreneurship) and stay away from the stuff I don’t (corporate America). At times, it was extremely nerve wracking, and I struggled to deal with the inherent uncertainty of my chosen path. Especially considering my debt load. But in the end, things worked out.

In early June, I’m joining Valor Capital Group, an NYC-based Venture Capital firm focused on opportunities in Brazil. Valor was launched in 2011 by Clifford Sobel, and has invested in baby.com.br, olook, and descomplica, among others. It’s a small shop, but growing quickly. I love the team, love the focus on Brazil, and love the learning opportunity. Additionally, it’ll allow me to keep one foot in NYC (where I’ll be close to fam and friends) and one foot in SP (where I’ll be actively engaged with the ecosystem I’m so passionate about). I’m so stoked. Can’t wait to get started!

Breaking down the Brazilian Zeitgest

The New York Times recently published a solid article detailing recent trends in the Brazilian startup space. It does a great job capturing the current zeitgeist of the Brazilian ecosystem, and I generally agree with their assessment of the state of the industry. But let’s dig a bit deeper. Below I pull out a few of the key themes / quotes and offer some supporting analysis and context:

  • “The consensus among investors and entrepreneurs in Brazil is that the short term will be difficult, but that long-term prospects remain highly favorable.” Wholeheartedly agree with this. As I’ve written about previously, beginning in mid-2012, the funding environment in Brazil began to trend towards conservatism, with some of the more active investors retrenching to focus more on portfolio management than ongoing capital deployment. The ebullience of 2011 rapidly dissipated as investors began to recognize the challenges of scaling in a hyper-competitive marketplace, particularly for companies focused on eCommerce. The shutdown of Shoes4You (more on this in tomorrow’s post) is a case in point. Regarding longer-term prospects, however, I believe positive sentiment is completely justified. Brazil’s nearly 200M citizens are highly digitally predisposed, the country’s middle class continues to expand at a rapid clip, and the local ecosystem is the most advanced in the Latin America. I’m confident we’ll see some big exits in the next 3 – 5 years, thereby validating international and domestic investors’ bets on the South American juggernaut.
  • “Initially, most investments made here by foreign venture capital firms were in a narrow range of Brazilian Internet or technology companies, sometimes called copycats because they replicate existing consumer Web business models in the United States or Europe.” Correct. Putting money to work in Brazilian startups involves an element of risk not present in domestic venture investing: country risk. When compared to investing in the US and Europe, investing in Brazil involves new forms of risk that emerge from backing a company in a foreign market with different consumer behaviors, cultural dynamics, legal frameworks, and bureaucratic practices. To compensate for the country risk associated with investing in Brazil, foreign VCs deploying capital in the country sought to mitigate a separate and distinct type of risk: business model risk. As the NYT points out, the mitigation of business model risk by foreign VCs was achieved by investing in proven business models that have worked in other markets, such as the US or Europe. The result is an investment dynamic focused on copycat models as opposed to genuine innovation. But I believe this is changing…
  • “Investors assumed Brazil’s market was large enough to support multiple successful companies in each e-commerce vertical: for example pet supplies, fashion or taxi services.” Yep. Take a look at the baby space. Yes, it’s a big and fast-growing vertical, but does it really make sense to have three venture-backed companies battling for market dominance in Brazil? Baby.com.br was the first player to receive venture backing in the space, and they are funded by a group of all-star investors, including Accel, Tiger, Monashees, Felicis, Thrive, and Menlo Ventures (full disclosure: Valor Capital Group, my new employer, is also an investor). Yet, despite the presence of a well-capitalized player backed by tier-A VCs, other investors felt comfortable putting money into competing firms. Atomico backed Bebestore with a $10.7M investment, and Rocket Internet put 20M Reais into Tricae. This is the hypercompetitive dynamic that has lately given investors pause and prompted them to approach the Brazilian eCommerce space in a more circumspect manner.
  • “Silicon Valley’s expectations were higher than they should have been in terms of the reality of the opportunity down there” Maybe. But can you really tell whether expectations were overblown only two to three years after you put money in the space? Most international investors only began deploying capital in Brazil in 2011. It’s now 2013. In the world of eCommerce, investors don’t generally see a liquidity event for 5 – 10 years after the initial investment. Given most international investors have exposure to Brazil via eCommerce investments, I would argue that it’s a bit early to make a call on whether Brazil has met expectations. Let’s give it a few more years, yeah?
  • “I expect a lot of shut-downs, and that a lot of companies will be firing people” Probably. I’ve commented before on how Peixe Urbano sold off some of its foreign entities, and laid off a bunch of people. We just saw Shoes4You close its doors. Word on the street has it that a bunch of startups with seed stage capital are struggling to scale and / or raise follow-on funding. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw further announcements of shutdowns. But remember, this is the world of venture, where shutdowns are natural and expected! So I wouldn’t be very alarmed. Failure is a natural part of any ecosystem.
  • “Companies will have a tough time raising money and do so more by begging and groveling with current investors” Totally. In fact, I think it’s fair to say I called this a few months ago when I wrote about how the investment environment in Brazil has become significantly more challenging. Seed stage funding is still fairly plentiful – you can get it from the German angel mafia (Kai, Florian, Felix, etc), from 500 Startups, or from Redpoint e.Ventures seed program, among others – but Series A / B has become really challenging, and will remain so for some time. Lots of folks with seed or Series A capital have had to turn to existing investors for follow-on funding. An increasingly popular alternative source of follow-on funding is strategic investors. These are larger Brazilian corporates who offer capital and other sources of strategic support in exchange for an equity stake and access to a startup’s unique expertise in a particular area, such as eCommerce operations and customer acquisition. I encourage these sorts of partnerships, especially when access to traditional VC capital dries up.
  • “People realize that Mexico is less developed in the Internet space and that raising follow-on capital is even harder” Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming comparative analysis of the São Paulo and Mexico City ecosystems, which should be out in the next few days. In that post, I will discuss at length the current state of the Mexican startup / VC landscape, with a particular focus on what it takes to raise $$ for tech startups in Mexico at present.
Mexico
Touchdown in Mexico. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the Mexico City ecosystem.
  •  “We’re seeing less flooding by M.B.A.’s and consultants from all over the world” Haha! I loved this line. Yes, it’s true, fewer and fewer of we dreaded “MBAs and Consultants” are coming to Brazil… instead, many of us are heading to Mexico! My friends Toby and Pablo, for example, decided Mexico was the place to launch a new vertical-specific eCommerce startup, Petsy.mx… check out their new company’s awesome site. And again, watch out for my next post, where I’ll go into greater detail on why so many aspiring MBA entrepreneurs are heading to Mexico these days.

That’s it for today folks! As mentioned, I’m back into the swing of things, and I’ve got some great material coming up. Tomorrow a look at the importance of CLV, and in a couple days, a kick-ass analysis on the Mexico ecosystem. See you soon!

 

rio-picBio: My name is Tom Baldwin. I’m a veteran Brazilianist with a passion for startups and entrepreneurship. I’ve spent a little over a year living and working in Brazil at different points in time. I’m a dual citizen of Mexico and the US. I’m a recent graduate of the Wharton Lauder Program. I’m here to build relationships, explore opportunities, and work on a few ideas of my own. Find me on Linkedin and Twitter.

My Wharton Experience Through the Lens of Launching a Startup

By Lisa Lovallo, Wharton MBA ’13, Arts & Sciences MA’13, Founder & CEO of Hemishare

I came to Wharton with the objective of starting a business, so I was looking for opportunities from the outset.  As a dual-degree student with the Lauder International Studies Masters degree program, I began the journey that took me to Brazil three months before my MBA peers set foot on campus.  Though I didn’t know much about Brazil – my four years of work experience in Latin America were limited to Mexico, Colombia and El Salvador – it was immediately apparent that growing and emerging Brazilian companies needed highly skilled talent (and that the country was unable to produce all the talent it needed on its own).  Recently, an ABC News article stressed that Brazil needs to attract at least three million skilled immigrants to stay on track for growth.  When dozens of companies, large and small, expressed their urgent need for talent from abroad back in the summer of 2011, the opportunity was clear to me. 

By starting my business at the beginning of my Wharton time, I was able to take advantage of the low-risk environment and great Wharton resources throughout my two years.  One of my mentors, Davis Smith (Wharton MBA ’11, Arts & Sciences MA’11, and Co-Founder of Baby.com.br), tipped me off about the Venture Initiation Program (VIP), which I applied to during my first semester. I wanted to immediately start taking advantage of the School’s entrepreneurial programming outside of the classroom.  I was fortunate to be admitted to VIP and remained in the program for the five-semester maximum. During that time, I saw Hemishare come to fruition with the support of many people within Wharton Entrepreneurship (WE).  I was even more fortunate to receive WE’s Snider Seed Award (which helped pay for several trips to Brazil during the summer of 2012). WE’s vast media presence helped promote Hemishare’s developments across several media channels, and I took advantage of WE’s many networking opportunities (where I met my lawyer and several key partners). 

Wharton Brazil Startup Dinner 2012While dedicating my entire summer last year to working on Hemishare instead of pursuing a traditional internship, I relied on the strength of the Wharton and Lauder brands and networks in Brazil.  The Wharton alumni network in Brazil is delighted to see so much student interest in the country.  I plugged into the already established Wharton/Lauder entrepreneurial communities in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo via Guilherme Freire, Wharton MBA ’13 (livo.com.br), Peter Ostroske (Olook.com.br), Bernardo Arrospide & Benjamin Lewis (4vets.com.br), Davis Smith (baby.com.br), Ben Gleason, Wharton MBA ’07 (Guiabolso.com.br), Miriam Grobman, Wharton MBA ’11, Arts & Sciences MA’11 (working at Vale). Other students were also there for the summer, such as Thomas Baldwin, Wharton MBA ’13, Arts & Sciences MA’13 and Brett Lewis, Wharton MBA ’13, Arts & Sciences MA’13.  See the photo of our Wharton Brazil Startup Dinner in São Paulo from June 2012. 

Possibly the greatest benefit of launching a company while at Wharton is being able to combine classroom application with laser focus when it might otherwise be easy to get lost in the dozens of great opportunities. By effectively incubating Hemishare at Wharton and Lauder during the past two years, I have been able to explore critical aspects of my business through my classes and with professors and peers.  Willing group members have contributed significant work on class projects that specifically benefited Hemishare, such as a 20-page recommendation for Hemishare’s international tax strategy for our final project in ACCT897: Taxes and Business Strategy (thanks Mohit, Kush, Jen and Tony!).  I’ve been able to explore legal aspects of running my business via Bob Borghese’s Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship, refine my recruiting strategies via an Independent Study with Professor Peter Cappelli. I considered the role of social media and viral marketing concepts in Hemishare’s recruit outreach via Professor David Bell’s Digital Marketing and Ecommerce class.  The business plan that I created for Professor Patrick Fitzgerald’s MGMT806 class helped me reach the semi-finals of the Wharton Business Plan Competition

Through the generous support of a Wharton-related mentor in the headhunting industry, I have an office space, recruiting software, and invaluable industry mentorship. I am excited to move to New York City after graduation to continue work on Hemishare.  I’ve got a great team on the ground in Brazil drumming up business and press (check out our articles in Exame PME and The Next Web), as well as some great recruiters and social media gurus helping out in the U.S.  We’re currently working hard to place some of our 600 active recruits in emerging Brazilian companies looking to grow their teams with great global talent. We ask that they already have at least Series A funding and 10+ employees.  We had a great response from our Facebook Brazil Photo Contest in March indicating the breadth of the interest in Brazil is right now. We are now looking for investments to fund the development of an interactive Brazil portal that will be the new face of hemishare.com

Although juggling an MBA, a Lauder Masters, a startup and the Wharton Experience has been a huge challenge, prioritizing Hemishare’s success helped me pick and choose the opportunities that would be most beneficial.  I’m thrilled to have experienced a meaningful two years at Wharton through the lens of my startup. 

 

Lisa LovalloBio: Lisa Lovallo is a Wharton MBA/Lauder International Studies MA student in the Class of 2013, majoring in Entrepreneurial Management and focusing on Brazil/Portuguese. She is the Founder of www.hemishare.com, an international recruiting service that connects young professionals in the US with jobs in Brazil.  Prior to Wharton, Lisa worked in Mexico City at Bain & Company after completing a Fulbright Binational Business Fellowship there in 2007-2008.  She speaks fluent Spanish & Portuguese.

hemishare

The Current State of VC in Brazil

By Thomas Baldwin (WG’13/G’13)

It’s midnight as I write this on my buddy Wolf’s couch here in São Paulo. Despite a long and exhausting day full of meetings, I’m restless, antsy, agitated… not even close to tired. This city has that effect on me. I’ve talked about this before, but the energy here is electric, the city is raw and real, humanity unleashed. I love that amidst the chaos of this city, more and more entrepreneurs are creatively addressing serious problems to create meaningful social (and economic) value. Oh, and lest I forget, I should also mention that people here are consuming. A lot. Walking through the mall these days makes you feel like a sardine. They’re packed.

Brazilians love to shop. Both offline and online.

But I digress. In this post, I want to discuss a topic that is of relevance to anyone looking to raise capital down here. Over the past few days I’ve met with a number of startup founders in Sao Paulo. Many of them are singing a common refrain about how the ecosystem – particularly with respect to VC funding – has changed over the course of the past year and a half. I thought I’d write a quick post to share what I’ve learned, and offer a few thoughts of my own.

Allow me to provide some context. I traveled to São Paulo in the summer of 2011 as part of the Lauder Program’s summer immersion session.  I was a bright-eyed MBA looking to absorb as much information as possible about the exciting world of Brazilian startups. I had a blast and learned a lot.

Boy, those were heady times. In the summer of 2011 – a year and a half ago – lots of people were raising capital. A lot of freshly minted MBAs came down, and many of them raised sizable rounds relatively easily, on very generous terms, with great valuations, without having to demonstrate much in the way of traction or revenues, without having a minimum viable product. In some cases, the ease with which these entrepreneurs raised was warranted by truly phenomenal ideas and / or excellent entrepreneurial track records. Davis (WG’11/G’11) and Kimball are an example of this with Baby.com.br. And they continue to crush it.

In other instances, however, the money may have come too easily. Some entrepreneurs probably shouldn’t have gotten as much money they did. Peixe Urbano, for example, is struggling mightily right now, and their investors are worried.  Like I said, these were heady times, and I think a lot of VCs got caught up in the hype, felt like they were going to get left out of supposedly hot deals, may have shirked a bit on diligence, and as a result may have made some hasty decisions. It’s obviously easy to say this in retrospect, so I’m not criticizing anyone. All I’m saying is that TIMES HAVE CHANGED.

Fast forward to the present. Today we exist in a venture environment much different from the one I described above. Pre-product capital raises are few and far between. Investors want to see traction, they want to see an MVP. They are pushing back on valuations. In general, it’s harder to raise capital right now.

Why has this happened? A couple reasons:

(1)    As I alluded to above, not all the investments that VCs made in 2011 are performing well. Home-grown Brazilian VC is relatively new, and when things heated up, I believe certain VCs made some mistakes (yes, VC is a hit-driven business, we expect lots of companies to fail even in a successful portfolio, but I’m saying that some avoidable mistakes were likely made). So the Brazilian VCs are learning, they are becoming more sophisticated, they are no longer as impressed by a flashy deck and great salesmanship as they were before. They are becoming more astute in their assessment of business models, of what is likely to work and what will likely fail.

(2)    The Brazilian “sexiness” factor, and a few high-profile capital raises by MBA-types, resulted in a huge influx of ambitious aspiring entrepreneurs from abroad. On the home front, more home-grown talent began to view entrepreneurship as a viable career path. You also have successful Brazilians returning home from abroad to launch businesses here. Bottom line: the space has gotten MUCH more crowded. VCs here used to have to search pretty hard to find entrepreneurs, now the entrepreneurs come to them in droves. It’s tougher to get their attention, and quality expectations are higher.

(3)    Diversification. Brazilian VCs are over-indexed to certain segments, particularly eCommerce. They put a lot of cash into eCommerce startups in 2011, and as a result they are shifting focus to other areas, like healthcare, financial tech, and education. A lot of the entrepreneurs on the ground are still pushing eCommerce ideas, which has resulted in lots of folks getting turned away. The eCommerce spigot seems to have closed (unless of course you’re doing B2B eCommerce, which I think is an entirely different story, and which I’ll cover in a separate post).

(4)    Some (but not all) of the US venture firms that are investing in Brazil have “placed their bets” on Brazil and are holding tight for a while until they see how things play out with existing investments. They are excited about Brazil, but they don’t want to over-expose themselves, so having put money into a few companies here, they may be pulling back for the time being. Unless they find something incredibly compelling, of course.

What does all of this mean for entrepreneurs looking to build big, capital-intensive businesses in Brazil? Think carefully about the factors I’ve written about above, and act accordingly. In the current environment, you need more than a beautiful deck, a magnetic personality, and a compelling vision. You need to show traction, you need to demonstrate some results (ideally revenues), you need to show you’ve got a sustainable competitive advantage. If you’re bent on B2C eCommerce, recognize you might have a tough road ahead of you (I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that you’re swimming upstream). If you’re looking to raise from Brazilian VCs, don’t pitch them on an idea that taps a theme they’re already invested in (don’t go to Monashees with anything Baby related, for example).

Most important (and most basic of all), do your homework! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there are a lot of people down here who are pitching crappy ideas, who haven’t done a solid market-sizing, who don’t understand how local dynamics impact imported models, etc. Use this to your favor and differentiate yourself by getting genius-level smart on your chosen idea & market before you step inside the shark tank!

Até a próxima gente!

This article was originally posted on 12/20/2012 on Tom’s blog Tropical Considerations: Insights on the Brazilian VC/Startup Ecosystem.

Bio:

My name is Tom Baldwin. I’m a veteran Brazilianist with a passion for startups and entrepreneurship. I’ve spent a little over a year living and working in Brazil at different points in time. I’m a dual citizen of Mexico and the US. I’m a student at Wharton / Lauder.  My blog, Tropical Considerations, chronicles a 5 week adventure in São Paulo that began in December of 2012. I’m here to build relationships, explore opportunities, and work on a few ideas of my own. Find me on linkedin and twitter.

 

 

Start-Ups in Latin America: Opportunities and Resources for Wharton Entrepreneurs

By Bernardo Arrospide

Latin America is currently experiencing a technology boom that is disrupting traditional industries across the region.  While Internet penetration is just beginning to reach the masses in countries such as Peru and Colombia, start-up ecosystems have already sprung up in Brazil, Mexico and Chile.  A rising middle-class with access to new technologies is providing the opportunity for entrepreneurs to arbitrage successful business models from developed markets, or, to develop entirely novel businesses tailored for the region.  As a first year MBA student originally from Peru, I decided to forego the traditional internship path to try and build a new business in South America.

In September 2011, the Economist published an article titled “Man’s Best Amigo” about the emerging Latin American pet care market.  I had been looking for the right idea for a business in South America and finally felt I’d found it.  In a stroke of luck, my fellow MBA learning team member, Benjamin Lewis, was also a Penn veterinary student and a serial entrepreneur.  We teamed up and began developing a business plan for a Brazilian pet care e-commerce business.

After several pivots, we are now on the verge of launching 4Vets.com.br: an online veterinary supply business for Brazil.  We were able to reach this point by boot-strapping in part thanks to the Chilean government, which provided us with a $40,000 equity-free grant via its Start-Up Chile incubator.  Launched in 2010, this program seeks to bring entrepreneurs to accelerate their start-ups in Chile.  In exchange, the program asks participants help develop the local start-up ecosystem through community actions such as organizing meet-ups for entrepreneurs, mentoring local students and speaking at universities.

Although initially Ben and I were skeptical about moving to Santiago to work on a start-up focused on Brazil, we have been extremely satisfied and grateful for the experience.  Start-Up Chile has already incubated three classes of 100 global start-ups and understands how to work with entrepreneurs whose primary market is not Chile.  In fact, the program seeks to bring as many global entrepreneurs as possible to create a truly international network.

There are two unique ways in which start-ups can leverage their time in Chile.  The first is to utilize the local market as testing grounds for a global product.  A great example of this is SaferTaxi, a taxi-ordering service similar to Uber, but focused on Latin America, which was started by a group of HBS MBAs.  Last summer SaferTaxi tested its app successfully with Chilean taxis, streamlining their system before rolling it out to larger cities such as Buenos Aires.  Today SaferTaxi is venture-backed and headquartered in Sao Paulo.  A second way in which Chile can add value is by leveraging the local community.  Working in proximity to hundreds of entrepreneurs has been invaluable for us.  Through the program, we were able to find experienced e-commerce developers who guided us on how to develop an online B2B platform cheaply and efficiently.

Besides the advice provided by Start-Up Chile, we have also continued to leverage Penn’s resources.  Lippincott library gave us access to key market research reports, even for niche areas such as pet care on Latin America. Meanwhile,Brazilian MBA students helped us contact dozens of veterinary clinics across Brazil.  Finally, Wharton’s network of entrepreneurs in Brazil has provided us with consistent advice and encouragement.  Entrepreneurs like Davis Smith of baby.com.br and Pete Ostroske of oLook.com.br have literally blazed the trail for foreign MBA students launching start-ups in Latin America.

After several months in Brazil and Chile, I continue to feel that Latin America provides an incredible opportunity.  While bureaucracy, regulation, corruption and underdeveloped capital markets remain a huge challenge; I believe that entrepreneurs with the right networks and ideas can be successful.  Penn and Wharton give students a great network for navigating these challenges while Start-Up Chile provides a fantastic venue to incubate an early-stage idea.  If you find yourself watching the Latin start-up boom from the sidelines and want to get involved, the resources are readily and absolutely at your disposal.  All you need is a dream and the will to act upon it.

Bio:

Bernardo is an MBA student at the Wharton School and co-founder of 4vets.com.br: a B2B e-commerce supplier of veterinary products for clinics, pet shops and animal hospitals in Brazil.  Previously Bernardo was the Chief of Staff to the CEO of the Medicines Company, a billion-dollar market cap biotech business where he was responsible for establishing the firm’s operations in Brazil.  Bernardo holds an AB in Economics from the University of Chicago. You can follow Bernardo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/thearrospider and sign up to receive info on 4Vets launch.